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Training to failure is a controversial type of weight training in which a weight lifter will perform repetitions of an exercise until the muscles begin to fail to support the weight. The lifter will not be able to complete that repetition, meaning he has trained to failure. Some lifters cite training to failure as a great way to build muscle and overall strength, while others claim that the high risk of injury and overtraining that can be counterproductive in the long run. Many lifters only train to failure on certain sets, or on the last set of the day, to avoid damage to the muscles.
A typical training day in which a lifter is training to failure may start with a few sets of high repetitions with lighter weights. As the workout progresses, the lifter will often do fewer repetitions at higher weights until he or she is lifting his or her maximum weight. This workout is called a pyramid workout, and it can be done without training to failure. A lifter who is training to failure, however, will continue to lift the maximum weight until the muscles can no longer support the weight at all, whereas a lifter who is not participating in failure training may stop after only one or two repetitions of the max weight.
Training to failure does not necessarily have to be done in conjunction with a pyramid workout. A lifter can do many repetitions at a lower weight and still train to failure, though it may take longer to do so. Many lifters believe this is a more beneficial way to train to failure, as the muscles get more of a workout and blood flow is stimulated to the muscles more thoroughly and for a prolonged period of time. Other lifters may train to failure simply by using the maximum weight for as many repetitions as possible. A lifter can continue to train after failure has been achieved by lowering the amount of weight lifted or by changing positions, though this increases the likelihood of injury.
Overtraining is very possible when training to failure. Overtraining occurs when the muscles of the body do not have sufficient time to recover after a workout, which can in turn lead to a plateau in one's training. It can also be counterproductive, leading to muscle or fitness loss. Extra time may be necessary after a failure training workout to allow the muscles to recover sufficiently.